Crime and Security Bill
Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the Minister said that crime is falling. That is not disputed, but the fact remains that the fear of crime is greater than crime itself. Public perception is shaped by the quality of legislation that we promote and how it is implemented by the criminal justice agencies. It is in this context that we will examine the Bill-and I add that having been burgled twice in six weeks has not in any way influenced my views on this matter.
Let us not forget the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Dear: this Government have an insatiable appetite for continuing to enact legislation. In many cases it has not even bedded down, and in some cases it has not even been implemented. Parliament has a right to say, "Enough is enough".
We have come to the concluding part of this debate in the knowledge, as many noble Lords have pointed out, that it is at the tail-end of this Parliament. I suspect that, since we are unlikely to complete all stages of the Bill before the general election, the Government's aim is to put essential provisions in statute during the so-called wash-up period, a point that was well taken up by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It is right to point out that we on these Benches believe that there are serious drawbacks to many of the contents, and we would not allow these to be steamrolled through Parliament. While I appreciate the pointed questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, I trust that she will also stand firm on that occasion.
Look at the preamble to the Bill on the European Convention on Human Rights. It is the Minister's view that,
"the provisions of the Crime and Security Bill are compatible with the Convention rights".
In reality, that means that no more will be done than is absolutely necessary for the Bill to be compatible with the Human Rights Act. There are far too many instances in the past where rights and liberties have been sacrificed or diluted by this Government. The Minister, I hope, will take due note of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln has said. The values we attach to rights and liberties are not negotiable.
Let me give an example. While the Bill contains a number of welcome features, it is blighted by the Government's wholly inadequate response to criticism from the European Court of Human Rights of this country's practice of retaining DNA profiles of people who were never convicted. This point repeatedly arose from almost all noble Lords. This should not be a bargaining issue between political parties, nor should it be allowed to be put in statute until we are absolutely satisfied that no element of such a policy contravenes the rights and liberties we have fought for and cherished for such a long time. We have often seen examples of the assurances given on the face of a Bill being challenged in the courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, and often the Government have been proved wrong.
Of course there are some provisions worthy of our support. The Bill's provision about the new compensation scheme for victims of terrorist actions abroad is unambiguously welcome. I am glad this had the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and more importantly the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, among others, is most welcome. May I just correct a small point that may have been misunderstood when my noble friend Lady Hamwee commented on that part of this Bill? She was referring to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. In paragraph 8 on Clauses 47 to 54, its report states:
"The Committee draws to the attention of the House that under the Bill as presently drafted it will be up to the Government whether or not to bring forward a compensation scheme: there is no commitment to do so on the face of the Bill."
She was right to bring that to the attention of the House.
There is a need to congratulate the Government on some aspects of the Bill, although many people who often do not see the reasons why such provisions are justified may need convincing. I am talking about the new restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the early hours of the morning. It will be helpful if the Minister could tell us what research has been produced which will justify this measure; quite simply, that would remove the ambiguity that remains with many politicians.
Let me also congratulate the Government on addressing the issue of domestic violence, so ably explained by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. The unremitting violence against women requires new measures. It has taken the police a long time to address this problem, but there has now been a sea change in their policies, and more and more forces now have dedicated units to deal with this matter. They need to ensure that they are not hampered in their task. It is for this reason that I also greatly welcome the provision for domestic violence protection notices and orders. These will provide immediate protection for the victims of domestic violence by requiring perpetrators to leave the premises or to refrain from contacting victims. This is a highly practical means of protecting victims pending a criminal prosecution.
There have been ample discussions in the past on anti-social behaviour. It has blighted many of our urban areas, but situations have also been identified where anti-social behaviour orders are unnecessary or counterproductive. I shall resist the temptation to give examples, but past debates in this House have clearly identified what works and what does not. We do not want ASBOs to be a badge of honour. We want orders to address the offending behaviour. It is for this reason that I welcome the provision for family-circumstance assessments to be carried out when an application for an ASBO is made. At present when ASBOs are imposed on young people, they are often doomed to fail because they are entirely negative measures. They prohibit the young person from carrying out specified actions but they do not provide any positive help or support for the young person to change his or her behaviour. I hope that the provision of family-circumstance assessments will lead courts which consider an ASBO to be necessary to accompany them in more cases with individual support orders, which can provide positive help for young people and their families.
I have repeatedly expressed my concern about the stop-and-search policy carried out by the police. As one who has often been the victim of such a policy, I invite the Minister to discard his admiral's uniform one of these days and come with me to wait on the other side of the Vauxhall Bridge, where he will see the disproportionate impact on the black and minority communities there. There is ample evidence of a difficult relationship between the police and black and ethnic-minority communities. The impact of such action should never be underestimated. There must be something fundamentally wrong when a large number of black and Asian people are stopped but very few feature in the criminal justice process. I am afraid that if we subscribe to the objective of policing by consent, then the consent of the black and Asian community would be withheld because they suspect that the police pick on them.
I thank my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond for her contribution. I hope that the Minister will take due note of what she has said, because she comes with experience in policing matters. In principle, reducing the number of reporting requirements for the police when they carry out stop and search seems reasonable, particularly as the Bill still requires information on ethnicity to be recorded. But there is a flaw: I believe that the Government are wrong to dispose of the requirement to record whether anything was found as a result of the stop and search. The outcome is more important than simply recording a particular incident. That bears out my noble friend's point.
The disproportionate use of stop-and-search powers against young black and Asian people remains one of the most important issues in reducing the confidence of minority-ethnic communities in the criminal justice process. Information about the proportion of stops which result in anything being found is surely very important in monitoring whether stop-and-search powers are used appropriately. I share the discomfort of successive Ministers on this issue, but the paramount principle of stop and search based on intelligence should never be sacrificed, and these so-called fishing expeditions must stop.
There has been a good contribution on gang-related violence. Last week's incident at Victoria Tube station is one of many examples showing that no one is safe in a public place. We need to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all our citizens, but we must exercise great care that the legislation we enact is both adequate and proportional. For that reason, I do not believe that the Bill is right to extend gang violence injunctions to young people aged 14 to 17. If young people have been involved in gang-related violence, they should be brought before a court and convicted after a proper criminal process, with appropriate safeguards. It cannot be right to use civil court orders for such young people as a substitute for the criminal process, particularly when the Bill provides severe criminal penalties for breach of an injunction. That amounts to the backdoor criminalisation of young people including, almost certainly, many young people from racial minorities.
Let me come back to DNA. Again, as with the stop-and-search provisions, there is the unwelcome sign that black and ethnic-minority persons are adversely impacted by this measure. Retaining DNA profiles also has serious implications for racial equality. People from minority groups are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to be prosecuted rather than cautioned and more likely to be acquitted at trial. Retaining DNA profiles after an acquittal means that the National DNA Database contains the profiles of a disproportionate number of young black people who have not been convicted of any offence. Yet even after the criticism of the current practice by the European Court of Human Rights in the Marper case, the Bill still enables the DNA data of unconvicted people to be retained for up to six years. I want the Minister to explain why the Government have produced such an anomaly. It is indefensible that the national database contains the DNA profiles-as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh-of 900,000 people who have not been convicted, and that the number is growing by 30,000 a month. In our view, the database should retain the profiles only of people who are convicted of offences. If the Government are not prepared to accept this, we should adopt something much more like the approach that is prevalent in Scotland, as several noble Lords have suggested.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, had the courage to say that he would advocate the DNA retention of every child born. I hope the Minister will clarify that this is not the policy of the Labour Party. If that is the case, I trust he will understand that the protest that would be made by the public on this issue would make that of the identity card seem like a tea party. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has criticised the Bill's provision of six years as disproportionate and arbitrary; as not making any distinction between arrests for serious and less serious offences; and for not taking proper account of the stigmatising effect of the inclusion of DNA samples taken from innocent people on the national database. I entirely share these criticisms and call on the Government to take note of them and amend the Bill on this point.
There will be a lot of electioneering between now and the general election in a few weeks' time. We saw the Conservative poster launch yesterday, with the photograph of Gordon Brown next to the slogan, "I let 80,000 criminals out early". However, we must not forget that when the general election is over, whoever is in charge of the country will face the same problem of overcrowded prisons, a Probation Service at breaking point, and more and more people detained in conditions not fit for human beings. This does not help the rehabilitation process. Unless we get away from the excessive use of prisons, we may find that the new Government are looking at the same picture. We need rational policies based on sound reasons to establish confidence in our criminal justice system. Let us hope that we can support the good that is in the Bill but reject what impacts on the rights and liberties of all our citizens. That is an issue on which we will not compromise.